Conversation Piece embodies the classic genre of portraiture of the same name. Descending from Dutch seventeenth-century domestic portraiture and originally popular with the European aristocracy, conversation pieces were eighteenth-century paintings commissioned by families and other groups, portraying them in the process of everyday activities such as hunting, meals, or after-dinner conversation. Toward the late eighteenth century, conversation pieces also gained popularity among the middle classes.
In Golder’s video triptych, two eight-year-old girls are shown reading The Communist Manifesto with their grandmother. The girls ask about concepts, phrases, and words that they do not understand. Oscillating between the acts of reading, asking, and explaining, grandmother and children seek to interpret the text. The grandmother’s role becomes that of the mediator between understanding and deconstructing complex concepts like oppression and freedom. By contextualizing the transmission of ideology in a familial setting and mediated through a matrilineal agent, the piece meditates on the way ideologies are absorbed. Glossing over the basic principles of the manifesto in a language that an eight-year-old could understand, the grandmother also takes on the role of authority, akin to that of governments.
Learning to read, an important phase in a child’s intellectual development, happens alongside the discovery of new words and concepts that open up exciting new worlds in the imagination. Those who, like Golder, came of age in South America at a time when oppression and freedom were not abstract concepts but real conditions—who sat in similar comfortable and warm, but never completely safe, domestic environments—absorbed ideology while learning about survival and the possibility of resistance. Conversation Piece places us there, in learning through translation, both literal and metaphoric. That space between the girls and the grandmother is where we start to learn about understanding.
Conversation Piece is on view at the 18th Southern Panoramas exhibition of the Link Videobrasil Festival, São Paulo, through February 2, 2014.